WAYNEPARK.COM

Pastor, Writer, Contemplative

Is Eastern Culture Demonic? (a commentary on Mark Driscoll’s allegation that “yoga is demonic”)

It’s been awhile since I’ve been incensed about something like this and so I wanted to weigh in on this issue from what I think might be a little different slant:

THE ISSUE:

A recent article in the Seattle Times details how a few prominent evangelical Christian leaders have sketched the practice of yoga as something “demonic” – says Mark Driscoll, a prominent mega-church pastor in Seattle: “Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots? Totally. Yoga is demonic… If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you’re signing up for a little demon class.” Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological adds his voice to the mix in an online essay last month: “Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding… Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God” (there are so many theologically jacked-up things about this statement BTW that it merits a separate blog post – won’t even get into Mohler’s distorted views about the human body and the logos, although I am seriously tempted to. In the least I don’t see at all how this statement incriminates yoga at all).

So, to summarize, the issue is the demonization of yoga.

MY PARTICULAR SLANT (WHY I’M INCENSED… AGAIN):

Two reasons. The first is socio-cultural. The second is theological. I’m gonna try to make this concise and clear as I know I tend to trail off into abstractions sometimes.

1. THE DEMONIZATION OF EASTERN CULTURE?

The demonic thing I don’t really care about. People are always saying something is demonic. It’s the implicit notion that yoga stems from Eastern culture and religion and thus should be demonized that bugs me so much because I can’t help but to find such a double-standard here. For example, Mixed Martial Arts, popular in America – and which Driscoll apparently is a big fan of – is steeped in Eastern mysticism. Yet it gets the green light because… ?

Lest you think I’m reading into it too much, let me take one step back. The West has been demonizing Eastern culture for a longer time than we care to admit. The Chinese Exclusion Act was a fairly recent blight on American history. In my old town of residence, Japanese women were once driven out, tabooized, because they were tempting the Protestant Christian men too much to lust. And then there were the 1907 race riots against Hindu Sikhs. So lest you think I’m “playing the race card” here too quickly when these prominent Christian leaders call yoga demonic, for me it’s the foremost issue, because the West has been demonizing Eastern culture for quite some time now. And lest you say Eastern culture is one thing, but Eastern religion is another… well that brings me precisely to my second – and theological – point regarding this fiasco.

2. “WHAT HAS TIBET TO DO WITH JERUSALEM?”

I don’t want to wax at length concerning the serendipity (or otherwise?) of Christianity being birthed in the West – I consider that elsewhere (What Has Athens To Do With Jerusalem?) – in a word, I think it was meant to be – and we are all the more fortunate for it. But at the same time I think we make a mistake when we uncritically accept the notion that Christianity is Western, and cannot be worked out from any other standpoint. We need non-Western voices to enliven our theology, yet it appears we are more apt to label the East, “demonic.” I mean, what is it intrinsically about “Eastern religion” that is so bad, and so demonic? Is it the increased “self-awareness?” the opening up of ourselves to new perspectives, to something “other”? Why, that sounds like Western psychology to me! Driscoll himself says:

“There’s not creator and creation (in yoga)… All is collapsed into what we call oneism. The result is that you don’t go out to God, you go into self. It’s not about connecting to God through the mediatorship of Jesus. It’s about connecting to the universe through meditation. It’s absolute paganism.”

If I may, I REALLY take issue with this statement. Because what he just described pretty much summarizes the Freudian / Jungian approach that we have wholesale adopted into our Christian methodologies of counseling, this “going into self” is basically what pop Western psychology is all about, and the church has basically appropriated it unthinkingly and wholesale. The only difference is, every now and then we pop in words like “God” and “Jesus” like extra sprinkles on top of ice cream. Here’s the crux; the plank is in our own eye, yet we go around calling Eastern religion “demonic.” It is entirely a double standard. If going into self were pagan, then all of America would be demonized by now, because self is king here.

So in the end, to reiterate, it’s not the demonic thing that bothers me about this latest round of gaffes; it’s the worldview that we here in the West can incriminate – yes, even demonize – anything Eastern, and for that matter, utilize such a double standard that we are not even aware of it. The grounds for this latest round of gaffes are at best, poorly chosen words betraying even more poorly thought-out worldviews, and at worst, as far as I can see it, just plain racism towards Eastern cultures.

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3 Comments»

  Greg Kensson wrote @

Wayne, in this rare instance I think you have NOT made your case. Sure, Driscoll should have said MONISTIC instead of DEMONIC (the latter requiring evil spirits). Sure, Western evangelicals often fail to recognize our own syncretism of the Bible with the Enlightenment and modern psychology (Jesus+Jefferson+Jung= Evangelicalism). But your blog hasn’t yet convinced me that this invalidates the criticism of monistic Yoga . . . or makes that criticism racist. –Greg

  Wayne Park wrote @

Thanx Greg, appreciate your thoughts – I certainly invite u to come around / dialogue here more often!

I’ve read Driscoll’s pushback on his blog arguing for the demonic / monistic dimensions of yoga. Let me just say it is quite exhaustive, and he’s attained quite a breadth of knowledge on the subject. So is yoga demonic? I still don’t know – he’s raised enough of a stink about it to make me uncomfortable next time I do it, but it bothers me his need to pontificate for everyone his beliefs (regards gender roles, MMA, and stay-at-home dads). I consider it bullying, and this case as well. Is he right? On this only the fruits will tell- I await to see the legion of demonized yoga practitioners arising.

Per the racist allegations – perhaps I should make it clear that I don’t think that’s his explicit intent per se; but when is racism ever so explicit? Oftentimes I think it is more subtle than that… at the risk of generalizing myself, it just seems to me that he’s saying don’t practice anything Eastern because it is innately suspect. That just seems culturally insensitive to me.

To add to that, I grew up divorcing myself from many things “Eastern” (e.g. ancestor venerance, familial traditions, funerary practices) because Western theologians would tell us they were shamanistic. Whether that is true or not (and whether yoga is demonic or not) this I don’t know for sure, but what i do know is that what has resulted in the end is a Christianity more Western than anything else – that has sadly lost its ethnic relevance and flavor for those of us who hail from the East. My concern is, just like insider movements often require a radical redefining of what is / what is not cultural Christianity, perhaps this should take place in Eastern contexts as well? This should surely resonate with you, i am assuming?

  matichuk wrote @

Certainly there could be an element of racism involved in Driscoll’s dismissal of Yoga. I am a white male and have had to own where my own attitudes were ethnocentric and racist (though unintentionally). So I hear your critique and am not a big defender of Driscoll. But I wonder if Driscoll and Mohler simply feel that if isn’t that yoga is Eastern so much as it is not Christian. That is, I think it is discrimination on religious grounds more than racist grounds. When you quote Driscoll’s critique and observe that it equally applies to Freudian/Jungian psychology, I wonder if Driscoll has much place in his theology for their insights either.

It is a moot distinction, because discrimination against other worldviews is still discrimination. All truth is God’s truth. As Christians, we evaluate that in the light of Christ, but Mohler, Driscoll and other heresy hunters are too dismissive in my opinion.

I wonder if part of it is fear. Eastern religions, in their popularized and bastardized western appropriations is one of the growing challenges to the Christian faith in America’s religious market. Perhaps Driscoll feels that Yoga is like a gateway drug to Eat, Pray, Love. The opposite error of demonizing Eastern culture, is accepting Eastern culture on Western terms. Honestly the self referential nature that Driscoll decries, is full-blown narcissism in Westerners. So maybe there is a real danger, but I still think it is more complicated.

One of the times that Mohler spouted off on Yoga, he was careful to distinguish Yoga spirituality and philosophy from the poses and yoga as exercise (which he says isn’t actually yoga). Certainly I agree that some practioners of Yoga articulate a worldview which seems incompatible with the incarnate Christ, but I think you have to do more than a downward dog to get demonized.


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